New York’s 9/11 Memorial

If the task of replacing the landmark “twin towers” was a huge challenge to designers, the responsibility of commemorating the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the original site needed sensitivity and practical genius.

In comparison, the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania was sited literally in an open field.  The Pentagon Memorial in Washington is a public open space in front of the building, the only part of the Pentagon complex where photography is permitted.

In crowded Manhattan, however, there was a strong feeling – particularly from the loved ones of the victims, many of whose remains were never recovered from the site,– that nothing should be built where the towers stood.

Accordingly the National September 11 Memorial consists of the footprints of the original towers, rendered as twin pools, each one acre in area, lined with walls of granite over which flow waterfalls.

The designer, Michael Arad of the New York practice Handel Architects, entitled his concept “Reflecting Absence”, which is exactly what it does.

The street-level parapets have bronze panels inscribed the names of the victims of 9/11, including those who died at the Pentagon and aboard United Airlines Flight 93 and those who died in the 1993 bomb attack on the World Trade Center, grouped according to the location of their deaths.

The words “and her unborn child” are added to the names of the ten pregnant victims.

The trees surrounding the pools are long-lived deciduous swamp white oaks, with the exception of the “Survivor Tree”, a callory pear which survived the bombing and was nurtured by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation in the Bronx and returned to the site.  Six other survivor trees, three callory pears and three little-leaf lindens, are replanted near to City Hall and the Manhattan approach to the Brooklyn Bridge.

The empty spaces, the soothing sound of falling water and the presence of the inscribed names call forth thoughts and feelings about the place and what happened there that resonate for victims’ loved ones, survivors and visitors who, if they are old enough, remember exactly where they were on September 11th 2001.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City, please click here.

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